People are sitting up and noticing Johanna Konta these days, especially as the British No 1 makes her impressive progress on the clay courts of Paris, a surface she has not had much success on, until now.
To be able to win a match like this against a tough opponent is a great feeling. I felt I played well throughout the match. To win like that in front of a crowd like that gives you goosebumps. Jo Konta
On Sunday, Konta became the first British woman to make it into the French Open quarter-finals since 1983, and she is doing it in some style, dispatching the clever Donna Vekic, 6-2 6-4, breaking her 5 times in the process.
The last British woman to reach the Paris quarters was Jo Durie, 36 years ago, who eventually lost in the semi-final. Konta would dearly love to go the whole way.
Konta and Vekic are friends off the court and have practised together a number of times, as well as playing 6 previous matches, the most memorable of which was a victory for the British player in the second round of Wimbledon two years ago in a battle that went all the way to 10-8 in the deciding set.
The Briton had lost their last two encounters, but she is rejuvenated since getting onto clay, previously her worst surface, and her knowledge of Vekic’s game certainly seemed to help her.
Konta, who before this year had never won a single match in the main draw at the clay court Major in 4 previous appearances, struck 33 winners in the hot, fast conditions, including 7 aces, to see off the 23rd-seeded Croatian on the hottest day of the tournament so far, with temperatures set to rise to as high as 31 degrees.
Although Konta and Vekic had split their previous encounters, including that epic clash in the second round of Wimbledon in 2017 that lasted over 3 hours, this was their first meeting on clay and, after 3 straight breaks of serve, the British No 1 was the first to hold, going up 3-1.
With Vekic struggling to land a first serve in, Konta went up a double break for 5-2.
Serving for the first set, the Brit saved 4 break points before taking it with her third ace.
After swapping breaks early in the second set, a drop shot handed Konta another break, but the 28-year-old failed to hold serve at 4-3.
She immediately broke the Croat again, and served out victory to love, clinching the match in 84 minutes..
As it has been all week in France, Konta’s victory was predicated on the reliability of her first serve, making 73 per cent of them, and going on to win 70 per cent of those points.
“We’ve had a number of great battles and I’ve actually lost the last two times we’ve played,” explained Konta.
“This is the first time we’ve played on the clay, and I knew that I had the game to beat her but she also has the game to beat me.
“When I came out on court, I tried to do the best I could, keep a good perspective and focus on the good things I was doing. I wanted to enjoy being out here playing against a great player.
“To be able to win a match like this against a tough opponent is a great feeling. I felt I played well throughout the match.
“To win like that in front of a crowd like that gives you goosebumps.”
Konta, who has always been a somewhat streaky player, is now building a sound record on the clay since winning both singles rubbers in the Fed Cup tie against Kazakstan in April, and she currently has 14 wins and just 3 defeats under belt to date.
In her Fed cup exploits earlier this season, she won all her 6 singles rubbers with 5 of them going the distance to a deciding set, demonstrating Konta’s icy coolness under pressure in matches, a factor in evidence on this day as she saved 7 of 9 break points while converting 5 of 8.
Konta will play either 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens or twice Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza for a spot in the semi-finals, with the pair squaring off later on Sunday..
It was an almost flawless performance from the Brit who is fast regaining the form that took her to the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2017, after which her form dropped.
Since then she has dipped nearly outside the top 50 in the rankings from a high of 4 but this win could well see her climb back inside 20, and there is no doubt she is playing tennis worthy of that and higher.
Elsewhere, the Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova continued to impress when she walloped Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, 6-2 6-0, to reach her maiden Grand Slam quarter-finals.
The 19-year-old Czech, who made quarter-final appearances at Indian Wells and Miami and reached the final on clay in Istanbul this season, blew the 12th seed off court with a mix of power and guile from the baseline.
Vondrousova tormented a sorry Sevastova with drop shots throughout, bagging the last 9 games to advance in the searing heat.
She has won all her 4 matches in Paris within 90 minutes without dropping a set and next faces Petra Martic, the woman who beat her in the Istanbul final, after the Croatian 31st seed advanced in somewhat more laborious fashion.
Martic, whose career has been hampered by back problems and slipped down to 662nd in the WTA rankings in April 2017, snatched a 5-7 6-2 6-4 win over Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
In a see-saw encounter, Kanepi broke decisively in the 12th game to take the opening set, but Martic piled on the pressure as she raced through the second to force a decider.
Both players suffered early jitters as they each dropped serve twice in the first six games.
Kanepi built a 2-0, 40-15 lead in the deciding set, earning multiple break points in the 8th game which, if converted, would have given the Estonian a 5-3 lead.
Yet Martic, appearing in the second week at Roland-Garros for the 3rd time, rallied in the hot summery conditions to outlast the former World No 15.
She saved a couple of break points at 4-3 before stealing Kanepi’s serve once again to move 5-4 up and serve it out, prevailing on her first match point to reach her first career Grand Slam quarter-final in 5 attempts.
She stirred up the crowd on Chatrier with her celebrations following some epic rallies, and they received her warmly as she clinched victory in 2 hours and 12 minutes.
“It was tough mentally for me today, especially because I was stopped 4 times before in the 4th round [at Grand Slams], so it really felt like I was doubting whether I was ever going to get that fourth round [win],” Martic said.
“That was close, 2 years ago. I was 2 points away [against Elina Svitolina]. Didn’t happen. Today it played a role in my mind. It was not always easy to focus on my game, but I just tried to fight as hard as I could, and thank God, I finally made it.”